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University of Cambridge

Women in STEM Festival

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    26 October 2023

    The challenges and opportunities facing women in STEM studies and careers are at the heart of a major national conference听opening today at 51福利社.听

    The Women in STEM Festival, taking place on 26 and 27 October 2023, will feature an array听of eminent and inspiring speakers, drawn from the worlds of academia, industry, education听and听politics.听

    A capacity听audience in the College鈥檚 Paula Browne House conference centre will hear about the latest research in subjects from astrophysics to zoology, together with lively debates on how best to address the barriers that still prevent girls and women from fulfilling their potential听in many STEM areas from school and university to the workplace.听

    Key speakers include the Vice Chancellors of Cambridge and Oxford, Professors Deborah Prenticeand Irene Tracey, sharing a platform for the first time since taking up their posts听earlier this year.The Shadow Science Minister, Chi Onwurah, will be quizzed by 51福利社 President Dorothy Byrne on how a Labour government plans to听diversify STEM in the UK.听

    Three female professors of astrophysics, all alumnae of the College, will be speaking at the festival. Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who discovered pulsars but lost out on a Nobel prize to her male supervisors, will open the event with an account of her discovery and stellar subsequent听career. Professor Katherine Blundell of the University of Oxford will discuss her cutting-edge听research on the evolution of galaxies and their life cycles, while Professor Hiranya Peiris, who has just become the first woman to take up the prestigious post of Professor of Astrophysics (1909) at Cambridge, will share her findings on the very first moments after the Big Bang.听

    The conference will also feature a series of panel discussions aiming to identify听the systemic factors blocking girls and women from achieving STEM equality in school, university听study and research, careers听and entrepreneurship, where women-led enterprises are far less likely than men鈥檚听to attract听venture capital.听

    At universities across the UK, women make up fewer than a fifth of undergraduate students in engineering, technology, and computing and only just over a third of maths undergraduates.听

    For this conference, the听College has compiled figures with the help of the Higher Education Statistics Agency identifying听the proportion of professors in STEM subjects who are women.听

    • In Physics, Maths and Chemistry, women made up only 14% of professors in 2021-22, the last year for which figures are available.听In Electrical and Computer Engineering, only 9% were women.听
    • Even in medicine, where around 70% of graduates are women, only approximately a third of Professors of Clinical Medicine and Anatomy and Physiology are women.听听
    • There are also dramatic differences in degree attainment at Cambridge between men and women. In 2022, in computer science, 32% of men were awarded First Class Degrees but only 8% of women.听
    • In Mathematics at Cambridge, 79% of men were awarded 鈥榞ood degrees鈥, the combined figure for students gaining Firsts and Upper Second Class Degrees, but only 45% of women.听
    • The percentage of men gaining First Class Degrees in Mathematics was more than double that of women. In Engineering, 25% of women gained firsts, but 37% of men.听

    Dorothy Byrne said:

    鈥楥ambridge and other universities are determined to improve their statistics. Huge amounts听of work are done here and across the country to encourage and support girls to take STEM subjects at school and to go on to study these subjects at university.听

    鈥楤ut this excellent work is not bringing the transformation we need. At the current rate of increase, it could be decades before women take their equal place in universities and in industry.听

    鈥楾hat鈥檚听a loss to each potential young scientist, engineer, mathematician听and computer scientists but it is also a huge loss to the economy.鈥櫶

    The conference will be filmed听and each session made available on the College鈥檚 YouTube channel. 听